“Probably the most stimulating four hours I’ve ever experienced.” That’s how Chris Thile described his guest-hosting duties on “A Prairie Home Companion” earlier this month.
The Grammy-winning bandleader of the Punch Brothers filled in for Garrison Keillor on two episodes of “APHC,” following in the footsteps of his Nickel Creek bandmate Sara Watkins as the second guest host in the radio show’s 30-year history.
Thile returns to the Twin Cities on Sunday for a gig at First Avenue with his Punch Brothers, only the sixth stop on the string quintet’s fourth album, “Phosphorescent Blues.” Their T Bone Burnett-produced LP grew out of a collaboration with a couple of other cultural icons from here, filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, whose 2013 movie “Inside Llewyn Davis” featured original music by the group.
Here’s more of what the California native had to say by phone earlier this week.
On filling in for Keillor: “I’ve always felt that Garrison has created the ‘Prairie Home’ world so thoroughly and brilliantly — that world with the skits, fake advertisements, music and overall themes — he’s created this thing where he doesn’t actually need to always tell it to us himself, we can get there ourselves. It was fun to test that theory over those two weeks.”
On the 10-minute epic “Familiarity,” which opens the new album: “We all knew that wouldn’t be the populist approach to sequencing the record [laughs]. It sort of breathes the narrative life into the record. It almost seems like a courtesy thing, too: After you hear that song first, it’s like, ‘Are you still in? I think you’re going to like this record then.’ ”
On working with T Bone Burnett: “After the experience of working with him on ‘Llewyn Davis,’ it was a pretty easy conclusion for us to ask him to work with us. He was very encouraging to us and seemed to get where we were coming from. And we are really, really happy with how it turned out.”
On the dangers of being too virtuosic a band: “There’s so much possibility in the Punch Brothers. There’s a lot of ability coursing through the fingers, voices and minds of these guys. When you can do a lot of things, you tend to try and do them all. You can get to have this bizarre, almost kitschy amount of ornament. Finally, the boys and I started focusing on and figuring out why we should do the things we do.”
On the on-and-off-again Nickel Creek: “We took ourselves off indefinite-hiatus mode. But I don’t think Nickel Creek will ever be the main thing for any of us again. It’s just one of the irons we all have in the fire now. But we did have a great time getting back together.”
The Punch Brothers
When: 8 p.m. Sun.
Where: First Avenue.